Study Guide

The Brothers Karamazov Book 6, Chapter 3

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Book 6, Chapter 3

From Talks and Homilies of the Elder Zosima

e) Some Words about the Russian Monk and His Possible Significance

  • As the title of the chapter suggests, there's precious little action going on here. Instead, the novel lets Zosima gets a couple of things off his chest before he dies. (Oh, was that a spoiler?) We'll give you the broad outlines of his talks here.
  • In this section, Zosima asserts that the Russian monk has an important role in the world, despite living in isolation from his fellow man. According to Zosima, it's really everyone else who is isolated: because people are so caught up in worldly desires, they have no interest in making real connections with other people.
  • The modern world of reason and science hasn't freed humankind; it has enslaved them to material things, the desire for wealth and earthly power.
  • Through a life of humble prayer, the Russian monk is freed from these material needs. Consequently, he can show others the way to true freedom through leading an exemplary life. Moreover, the Russian monk has an intimate connection to the Russian people, who are fundamentally a religious (or Orthodox) people.

f) Some Words about Masters and Servants and Whether It Is Possible for Them to Become Brothers in Spirit

  • Here, Zosima insists that "[e]quality is only in man's spiritual dignity," and not in superficial distinctions in class. Thus masters and servants ought to be brothers in spirit.
  • Case in point, he tells the story of meeting up with Afanasy, the servant he brutally slapped while he was an officer in St. Petersburg, eight years after he left to become a monk. Afanasy warmly welcomes Zosima into his home and even donates money to Zosima for his mission.

g) Of Prayer, Love, and the Touching of Other Worlds

  • In this section Zosima talks about how prayer is essentially like the 19th century version of Twitter: you can pray for anyone, at any time, even if you don't know them. Conversely, someone out there is comforted by the thought that someone is praying for them, even if they don't know who it is.
  • This sense of being connected to everyone in the earthly realm leads to a feeling of connection to the heavenly realm, to God and his higher truth.

h) Can One Be the Judge of One's Fellow Creatures? Of Faith to the End

  • Zosima here insists that man cannot judge or be judged by other men because everyone is guilty. It's only by recognizing how guilty we all are that true universal love becomes possible.
  • Zosima exhorts his followers to embrace the ecstasy of loving God, even to the point of throwing themselves onto the earth and kissing it.

i) Of Hell and Hell Fire

  • Zosima muses that the best part of hell may be physical suffering, because burning in the fires of hell would take your mind off the even greater torment of your spiritual pain, the pain of being without love. But perhaps in sensing this deeper spiritual pain, the condemned would at least have some "image" of what love is like, an image they may not have had access to when they were being distracted by worldly pleasures.
  • Even suicides – who, according to the Russian Orthodox faith, are condemned to hell – deserve one's pity, and Zosima confesses to praying for suicides even though the religion forbids it.
  • At this point, Alyosha's manuscript breaks off, and the narrator gets back to the action. On this last evening, everyone visiting Zosima believes he is getting better. All of a sudden, though, he feels an intense pain in his chest and falls to the floor, kissing the earth and praying. In this position, he dies.
  • The chapter ends with the narrator coyly promising that the events that follow are "strange, disturbing, and bewildering."

The Brothers Karamazov Book 6, Chapter 3 Study Group

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